FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Leaving, Part 2

with Dennis Rainey | August 26, 2004
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A husband or wife can't cleave until they leave. On today's broadcast, Dennis Rainey continues to share about the importance of leaving.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • A husband or wife can't cleave until they leave. On today's broadcast, Dennis Rainey continues to share about the importance of leaving.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

A husband or wife can’t cleave until they leave.

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Leaving, Part 2

With Dennis Rainey
August 26, 2004
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Bob: The Bible says when a man and a woman are getting married, they are to leave father and mother.  But what happens if Mom and Dad don't want you to leave?  Here is Dennis Rainey.

Dennis: You can't make that decision for your parents.  You can't force them to let you leave.  All you can do is leave.  All you can do is leave your need for approval from them and turn to your spouse and let that person be the one that you cleave to and commit to, to experience that approval and appreciation and encouragement that God intended in the marriage relationship.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, August 26th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll talk today about the importance of leaving father and mother to be married and how to do it with humility and grace.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition.  We're talking this week about coming up with a plan – having a plan for marriage.  I guess we're not talking about coming up with the plan, because the plan is there, Dennis.  It's found in the opening pages of the Scriptures.

Dennis: That's right, and many times here on the broadcast, I've used the illustration of the husband having a set of blueprints and the wife having a set of blueprints, and the problem is that their blueprints only overlap at points.  They're not really the same set of blueprints.  And what we try to do at our FamilyLife Marriage Conference is give husbands and wives and, for that matter, single folks as well, a set of blueprints for building a godly relationship with the opposite sex.  And if a husband and a wife both have the same set of blueprints, and they're both coming at their marriage relationship from the Scripture, they're going to be building their marriage as God designed it.  They're going to be coming from the instruction book and, Genesis, chapter 2, really gives us the panoramic view of the marriage relationship, and in verse 24 and 25 we get a picture of that view from God's perspective.  He says, "For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.  And the man and his wife were both naked, and they were not ashamed."

 I believe virtually every marital problem can be traced to a failure to leave, a failure to cleave, or a failure to really cultivate that oneness of flesh.  And if we really understand these blueprints here in the book of beginnings, the Book of Genesis, I think, Bob, it will help us, as a couple, have our marriage set in the right direction.

Bob: You know, it's interesting, because as we speak at FamilyLife Marriage Conferences, couples will often come up, and they will say, "Our problem is" – and then they'll go on to list whatever the issue that they're dealing with is.  And I oftentimes say, "No, your symptom is communication," or your symptom is finances.  But I point them right back here to Genesis and say, "Your problem is either a failure to leave, a failure to cleave, or a failure to really establish the oneness in a marriage relationship."

Dennis: That's right, and in Genesis, chapter 2, verse 24, it talks about a cause.  God wants a man and a woman to become one.  It's the marriage relationship.  That's the cause that causes him to leave his father and his mother.  And on yesterday's broadcast we talked about how the word "leave" here means to "forsake dependence upon."  It means that we no longer look to our parents for approval; look to them for support, for encouragement, but we leave one sphere of influence and move to another sphere of influence, and we'll talk more about that on tomorrow's broadcast – how you go about cleaving.

 But this is a mistake that a lot of couples make, Bob.  They don't know how to properly leave their parents.  And so today's broadcast really is directed to single people to help them know how to leave; it's directed to married folks who need to continue to know how to leave; and it's directed to the parents who need to prepare their children to leave.  Because one of the big problems in the marital equation is that parents are not allowing their sons and their daughters to leave and to cleave to another person and form a marriage relationship.

Bob: Well, you talked yesterday about leaving in the context of our emotional relationships; leaving the financial dependence on our parents; and leaving in the decision-making processes of life so that we're not dependent on our parents to make decisions for us.  Now, let's assume for a minute that some of our listeners are headed toward the altar this year.  They may be in a dating relationship now and don't even know that, come May, they're going to be tying the knot, or maybe they've already gotten engaged, and they're on their way to be married.  What can they be doing now to prepare to leave?

Dennis: Well, I think they are in an enviable position of being able to establish the leading to occur in the right way.  Many of the married folks who are listening to the broadcast right now perhaps didn't know how to best go about the process of leaving their parents.  But a single man and a single woman who are getting married can begin to spend some time with their mother, with their father, and begin to salt them down with the idea that they are leaving, and that they will be cleaving, and that here is what this new relationship will look like, and that they can begin to spend time with their parents and let them know that although they are leaving them to establish this new union, they still are going to be their son or daughter, and they want a relationship.  But they can send some signals to the parents to let them know that their allegiance is switching, and that they are going to be committed to this new person that they are making a covenant with, and a vow to, in the marriage ceremony.

 I think parents need their sons and daughters to help them in this process.  It is difficult.  It is hard.  Emotionally, parents don't want to give up that investment that's taken place over 18, 20, 25 or more years.  And it's the wise single person who can understand those dynamics and maybe even talk about it with their mom or dad.  Interact with them, ask them what they think about it, what they're feeling emotionally, and don't be surprised if your parents can't articulate it.  But let them know that you know it may be a struggle.

 And, you know, it may be that the son or daughter is the only real relationship they have.  They may not have any other relationships.  They may be in a dead marriage.  They may not be alive spiritually.  They may not be plugged into a good church where they have their relationship needs met by other Christians.  And so for them to say goodbye to a son or daughter who is getting married, it's to cut themselves off from a living hope.  And, you know, it's at that point that we need to give our parents a gift of compassion.  It's the gift of looking at your parents through the eyes of Christ.  How can I so minister to them and encourage them that it will make this process of leaving palatable for all concerned?

Bob: You're saying that a young man or a young woman who is headed toward marriage would be wise to invest some time and some emotional effort in beginning to prepare his parents for the idea that he is leaving.  That will help establish his marriage relationship in the early days?

Dennis: No question about it.  If a young man has the wisdom to prepare his parents or parent, as it may be, he will go a long way toward establishing that freedom and that ability to establish that new marriage relationship when it occurs.  In fact, if he will use these days leading up to the marriage ceremony, at the point when the couple do cleave, there will be a lot less problems in the first years of the marriage relationship as they decide where to go over the holidays and whose parents to go visit and how much time to spend at which parents' house on vacation.  And it will also help, I think, too, Bob, when perhaps parents overstep their bounds, and they make an observation, or they're moving back into control, and they shouldn't do it.  If there is the relationship there, and it's been established, then there can be the discussion about these matters without it becoming some kind of polarization.

Bob: Well, let's jump ahead a few years.  Let's assume that the wedding has already taken place, and it's five years into the marriage, and couples are beginning to look at one another and saying, "Is this an issue for us?  Maybe we have not done a good job of establishing our leaving from our parents."

Dennis: And I think the process really begins when you realize that you haven't left, and you haven't done it properly.  If you recognize that that's true, then at that point you can begin to take some steps that will breath some health into your own marriage but also into your relationship with your parents.

Bob: And you'd recognize that by seeing that you are either emotionally dependent or financially dependent or still dependent in your decision-making on your mom or your dad?

Dennis: Yes, and there are certain parents who are manipulators, who are controllers, and they have such a pattern of controlling that they simply can't allow their child to leave.  I was reading just the other day in Tim Kimmel's book, "Powerful Personalities," about three kinds of personality types.  One is the aggressive controlling type, a second kind is a passive manipulator, and a third one is a combination of the two – a passive-aggressive controller.  And Tim really does a great job of explaining how people can control another person's life and how you can have your life controlled by another person and how you can break free from that control.

 I think there are a number of couples who have not left but don't realize it.  They have allowed these controls to occur in their marriage, and they're there, they're in place, and because they've not known anything else, they don't know what it feels like for them not to be there.  And there can't be a real healing unless you really understand what the problem is.

 But regardless of what the problem is, the first step in dealing with this as a married couple is beginning by honoring your parents.  I think any leaving of your parents, whether it be the wedding ceremony for a couple who is getting married where you would honor the parents during the ceremony, or whether it be a married couple who have been married five years, 10 years, or more, there are ways to leave your mother and father and still bring honor to them.

 Let me read a portion from a story about a couple who recognized they had not fully left their parents and some steps they took to lead their parents but also do it within the context of honor. 

"Dan and Rebecca had been married for more than 10 years before they wrote a tribute to honor Dan's parents.  Dan's parents were controllers.  They expected Dan and Rebecca to attend all family functions, even if it meant missing Rebecca's family gatherings at Christmas."  Now there's – you're getting a real sense of the control there.  "Dan could not say no to his parents.  After years of struggling, Dan and Rebecca concluded that they must do something to honor their parents and establish that Dan's leaving had occurred.  They had a plaque made at a local trophy store.  Engraved on the plaque were the words of affirmation for all Dan's parents had done for him – a recognition that they had given to his life so that he could leave and cleave to his wife Rebecca.  Dan used the opportunity of a tribute to discuss and carefully establish with his parents some boundaries that would prevent their control in the future.  And it worked."

You see what happened here?  They couldn't let him leave, so he left.  And by writing a tribute, he did it with such power and with such honor, that it formalized the process of him leaving.  And I recall, Bob, in the letter how they had, at the time when they presented this trophy, a time of interaction with them talking about the need for Dan to be able to cleave to his wife and meet some of her family's needs as well.  And, to the best of my understanding, that couple has experienced, I think, a real freedom from what had been a controlling situation.

The issue here is, as you return home with honor, you can use that opportunity to formalize the leaving that should have occurred at the wedding ceremony.

Bob: Well, I'm sure some folks here, you tell about Dan and Rebecca, and think it worked for them, I'm not sure it will work for me.  Is there a money-back guarantee on this idea?

Dennis: No, there really isn't, because parents are human, and the emotional bond with children is so powerful that you can't make that decision for your parents.  You can force them to let you leave.  All you can do is leave.  All you can do is forsake dependence upon them.  Leave your need for approval from them and turn to your spouse and let that person be the one that you cleave to and commit to experience that approval and appreciation and encouragement that God intended in the marriage relationship.

Bob: And if we try to do that without doing it in the context of honor, we send a message to our parents or our in-laws that we haven't really grown up yet.

Dennis: Yes, and when we dishonor our in-laws, I think, Bob, we really dishonor our spouse.  And, you know, early in our marriage, Barbara and I got invited to go back to Barbara's parents' 30th wedding anniversary.  Now, in all honesty, Bob, in our family, anniversaries were kind of yawn, ho-hum, they weren't any big deal.

Bob: You mean when you were growing up?

Dennis: When I was a kid – I don't remember my parents ever making a big deal about their 25th or their 30th or 35th or any of that.  That's just who they are.  We probably should have, looking back on it, but when we got the invitation I didn't think much about it.  In fact, thought so little about it that I booked a retreat the same weekend, and we didn't go.  Well, I found out later I had really offended them by not going.  And, really, I'd have to say that in my youthfulness and my immaturity, I did not understand how important those kinds of events were to her parents' family.  And I really feel like, looking back on it, I dishonored Barbara, my spouse, by not valuing something that her family valued and moving to meet that need.

 Now, that does not mean – let me be quick to add here – that does not mean you have to go back for every family function and for every holiday and for every request that family makes.  In fact, what we're talking about here in some regards is breaking away from some of that to establish your own traditions, your own holidays, and your own family unit, of sorts.  But what you have to do is you have to do it within the context of honor.

Bob: Okay, so the first step for a couple is to make sure they are leaving in the context of honor.  What's next?

Dennis: Well, I think you can leave your father and mother and protect your marriage at the same time by preserving your space or establishing boundaries around your marriage.  One of the ways that a young couple can really protect their marriage and also continue to establish this leaving concept is when they do go home, not stay for any longer than two or three days at the most.

 The first day you're there, everybody is happy to see each other.  The second day, it's still pretty wonderful.  But by the third day, your bad habits as a son-in-law or a daughter-in-law can begin to wear thin on the in-laws.  So while the welcome is still warm, keep the stay short enough so that you leave with good memories.  And I think when you end up heading back home from your parents' house, I've a got a couple of thoughts, too, about that trip when you start debriefing and talking about what took place.

 First of all, resist the urge to be critical of every little thing your parents said and did and, "Did you hear that?" and "How did that make you feel," and just take them apart verbally, especially in front of your own children.

Bob: Well, you've talked about the context of honor, and you've talked about the need to protect our space.  What's the next step in leaving our parents?

Dennis: Well, if you're married to a spouse who gets controlled by his or her parents, then what you've got to do is step in there to protect them and really preserve their own individual integrity as they go back home.  In other words, let's say you take your wife home, and she has a mom who is manipulative, and you watch this begin to occur.  Within the context of honor, I think there are ways to step in there and put your arm around your wife and perhaps pull her out of situations that may be inflammatory, where she may be losing it emotionally, take a walk, find opportunities to build space in the schedule so that perspective can be regained and so that the parents do not maintain control over their son or over their daughter.  What you've got to do is take the action needed to really protect and just be a guardian of your spouse without putting your spouse's parents down or dishonoring them.

Bob: You know, that takes some courage, doesn't it?

Dennis: It really does, but, you know, sometimes tough situations demand dramatic measures and, as a man or as a wife, you may need to move in there and protect your spouse or confront a situation and protect the one that you're committed to.  And here is a real caution – be careful of turning against your spouse in front of your parents and siding with your parents against your spouse.  That can create a feeling of disloyalty and of being a failure to leave and cleave to your spouse.  What your spouse needs in those situations is to be publicly reaffirmed.  And what I'd suggest, as a couple, is to talk about these issues, pray about them, and then ask the Lord what kind of steps need to be taken and even go back home with an offensive game plan in place so that if a certain circumstance continues to occur, you know exactly what you're going to do ahead of time.

Bob: You mentioned Tim Kimmel's book, "Powerful Personalities."  That really is a helpful book especially for couples who feel like they may be locked up with parents, with in-laws, who are trying to control a relationship or exerting more influence than they ought to exert. 

 We've got the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and we're encouraging listeners to get a copy of that book, along with Dan Allender's book, "Intimate Allies."  Those two books together really address this issue of leaving and how important it is if a marriage is going to be properly founded and going to move in the right direction.  Anybody who wants to contact us to get both books, we'll send along at no additional cost, either the cassette tape or the CD audio of this eight-part series on God's blueprints for marriage.  You can ask for that free audio when you contact us to order the two books we're talking about here.

 If you need more information, go to our website at or give us a call at 1-800-FLTODAY.  And, you know, I'm thinking about the number of young couples, folks who may have been married for, I don't know, five or 10 years but have never really understood how important it is to follow God's plan for marriage; how important leaving is; how important cleaving is – the whole aspect of a oneness relationship.

 In the two-and-a-half days that couples spend at our Weekend to Remember conferences, there is an opportunity to discover things about marriage from the Scriptures that many of these couples have never discovered.  We had one couple that attended recently said, "We've been given real, practical information that is very helpful, and I'm glad we've received it as such an early stage in our marriage."  They'd been married for nine-and-a-half months.

This woman went on to write, "We also enjoyed seeing other married couples who care about their marriage.  We now have great tools to take home to begin to apply in our marriage."  And whether you've been married for nine months or nine years or 30 years, that's what you'll take home from a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember conference.  The practical, biblical information that can help you make the necessary adjustments all of us need to make in our marriage in order for it to function according to God's plan.

 If you'd like more information about being a part of one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember conferences, we've got 30 or 40 of them taking place this fall in cities all across the country.  You can go on to our website at and get more information, or register online if you'd like or, again, give us a call at 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can answer any questions you have, or we can get your registered right over the phone.

 You know, this issue of God's plan and God's purpose for marriage is something that, as a ministry, we've been addressing through this radio program at our Weekend to Remember events, on our website at, to the resources that we've created – we've been doing that for more than a quarter of a century now.  It seems like right now, today, is a critical time in our culture when this issues needs to be addressed.  In fact, that's one of the reasons we are partnering with Chuck Colson and the Wilberforce Forum to encourage churches to be speaking out on this issue during September and October trying to provide resources for pastors so that they can help accomplish that task.

You know, the whole question of what defines a marriage is up for grabs in this culture and at FamilyLife we feel a responsibility to accurately represent what the Scriptures teach about God's blueprints for marriage.  And we appreciate those of you who in the past have helped our ministry through financial contributions.  Your donations make up more than 60 percent of our annual revenue, and it literally keeps us going.  And right now we want to ask you to help us financially as we continue to press this issue in these critical days.  We need to hear from as many of you as possible by the end of August with a financial contribution.  You can donate online at, or you can give us a call and make a donation over the phone at 1-800-FLTODAY.  And I want you to know your donations do make a difference as we try to press this message out into our culture in these critical days.  So thanks for getting in touch with us and donating if you are able to.

Well, tomorrow we're going to take the next step.  We're going to go from leaving to the subject of cleaving.  Once we've left, what do we do?  We'll talk about that tomorrow.  I hope you can be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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